Friday, July 12, 2024
HomeNotes From KathyPastured Pigs in the 'Burbs

Pastured Pigs in the ‘Burbs

My parents live in the suburbs outside of Washington D.C. Their home is in a small development, with houses lining three streets, arranged in an “H”. Each morning, my mother meets up with one or two or three friends to walk the “H”, and catch up on each other’s lives. When I visit, I walk with them, and get a window into the neighborhood.

Pastured pigs in the suburbs have a pretty sweet set up.
Pastured pigs in the suburbs have a pretty sweet set up.

This past visit, Nancy, who knows everyone (and their kids and dogs) and everything, pointed out a house. There, set back in the yard, behind a wrought iron fence is a run-in and a small shed. “They are raising pigs for 4-H,” she said. “They buy young pigs each spring, then take them to the fair. They sell them, and get half a pig for later.”

A few days later, I met Dave, the father of the pig farmer. He explained that he didn’t know anything about raising pigs. His son, however, is an avid 4-H member. Dave’s son settled on raising pigs, and for the past few years, they’ve been buying pigs in May, and showing them at the fair in August. In between, they feed a “show” ration purchased from a feed dealer about 30 minutes away. They weigh the pigs every few weeks, to make sure they are gaining enough, but not too much.

After they sell the pigs, Dave’s son writes up a report, tracking the weight gain and costs. The fence probably doesn’t figure into his calculations, but he’s pretty aware of the expenses that go into raising his pigs.

Last year’s pigs didn’t fare so well at the fair. The judges noticed that there was some splaying of the feet from so much time on the hard surface of their run-in. This year, Dave said that he’s okay with sacrificing the lawn there, and the pigs are “out on pasture”. When the pigs are sold, Dave and his son will reseed the area they’ve mucked up.

In a land of weekly landscapers and sculpted topiary, there is pastured pork. Yes, they are behind a fancy fence, and we all know that grass isn’t going to hold up. The neighbors don’t mind, the homeowner’s association is okay with it, and as I ran past them on my pre-walk run, the pigs’ owner was mucking out their run-in before he left for his day job.

Farming is a business for those who farm, but for a lot of people who farm and for people who don’t, it is a dream. The reality is that it’s a lot of hard work, and if it’s going to be your income, it needs to be profitable. That’s a set of challenges that may be daunting or not truly feasible on closer inspection. For the son in a family living in a world of manicured lawns and mulched flower beds, though, pastured pork may be possible, and might help him decide if he’s ready to make the next step onto a path less traveled.


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Rachel Gilker
Rachel Gilker
Rachel's interest in sustainable agriculture and grazing has deep roots in the soil. She's been following that passion around the world, working on an ancient Nabatean farm in the Negev, and with farmers in West Africa's Niger. After returning to the US, Rachel received her M.S. and Ph.D. in agronomy and soil science from the University of Maryland. For her doctoral research, Rachel spent 3 years working with Maryland dairy farmers using management intensive grazing. She then began her work with grass farmers, a source of joy and a journey of discovery.

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